After the war, Komer observed that, while the counterinsurgency-pacification effort suffered a slow death in 1966, it was resurrected after the Tet Offensive in 1968. America and its Vietnamese ally had little choice but to do so. The magnitude of Westmoreland's error of misreading the enemy's operational flexibility was revealed at the onset of that offensive. In 1965, he claimed that at Ia Drang the enemy had begun to abandon protracted war. This statement was conveniently forgotten at Tet, when he announced, as if for the first time, that the enemy had finally abandoned protracted war in favor of the "third stage" main force operations. In fact, he was chiefly facing concentrations of guerrillas acting without the reserves and logistics of main force units. The infuriatingly flexible enemy had temporarily shelved protracted war in favor of a general offensive/general uprising associated with "third phase' operations, but employed concentrations of guerrillas, rather than abandoning them in favor of regular units as was typical of Maoist strategy as perceived by MACV. Westmoreland tried to translate the heavy casualties his forces inflicted upon such troops as proof of the correctness of his strategic posture and he was, in fact, correct in believing that, after Tet, the burden of the war would fall on regular North Vietnamese units. The enemy's performance at Tet, however, rendered these new conditions irrelevant. The Tet Offensive may have had catastrophic costs for the NLF, but its effort constituted the ultimate proof of the effectiveness of political and military dau tranh.
The meaning and impact of Tet was hotly debated in Hanoi, with mea culpas from the Le Duan--Troung Chinh clique that favored its most disastrous element--the push for a general uprising--and with the expression of deep regret from Vo Nguyen Giap, who planned it reluctantly under duress from the Le Duan-dominated Politburo. This debate, however, has obscured the actual plans and purposes of the offensive. According to Tran Van Tra, the Tet Offensive harnessed the energies of all forces at all levels and had two objectives, one political and the other military. The political objective, fully achieved, was aimed at breaking the mutually painful deadlock of the war of attrition and pushing the already wavering Washington war-making elite into doing what Robert McNamara had by then already recommended: admit its failure to win a quick military victory and seek a negotiated settlement. The military objective, aimed at unmanning rather than overwhelming U.S. forces, was designed to support the political objective, with the added benefit that movement toward the desired negotiated settlement might be accelerated or even obviated by a successful general uprising. Thousands of guerrillas died and the general uprising failed, but the offensive's purpose was realized: with the demoralization of the enemy's leadership and the opening of negotiations to end the war. Today, Tran Van Tra remains amazed that Tet is considered in America as a "military failure" that was, at best, a freak political success. He bridles at the "blind xenophobia" inherent in the revisionists' who claim that Washington was "forced to withdraw due to internal conflicts and psychological panic" unrelated to any intentional act of the Vietnamese people. He admonishes the "smug" devotees of these argument to remember that, while the offensive was, indeed, a political victory, "there is never an easy `political victory' won by the grace of Heaven or through an enemy's mercy without first having to shed blood and scatter bones on the battlefield, particularly in a big war such as ours."
End Part 3
Hau Nghia Pt 3 Tom Brokaw